The Storybuilding Process

Katherine Phelps


Whether consciously or unconsciously story creators have certain subjects of interest to them. These subjects are selected due to the opportunities they present to express certain qualities, emotional situations and moral conclusions. They form the core themes that story creators will represent in their work. Theme will then usually dictate genre and perhaps medium. For instance, a theme of "crime never pays" will probably result in a story in the mystery genre.

World Building Stage

Some story creators upon deciding a theme, genre and basic story premise will proceed to either gather information about the history of a particular place or time, even if it is to confirm details from their own memory, or map out their own fictional history and geography. Depending upon the scope of the story some story creators may just "make it up as they go along."


This stage may come either before or after certain stages of character development. Using the story premise and certain details concerning the genre, the characters, and the story history, creators will begin imagining and conceptualising the steps needed to reveal the story and their theme to the best effect.

Story creators may then either set down their plotting as a guideline during the creating process or simply keep a general plot in mind, leaving space for flexibility and discovery. The first method is vital for computer-meditated multilinear storytelling in order to manage all of the plot threads adequately.

The second method is known as the organic and is often better able to convey a naturalistic feeling to the story and its characters with genuine moments of surprise. The drawbacks are that usually much editing is required after the first draft of the story, and sometimes the plot goes so far astray as to deprive the work of a sense of completeness.


Sometimes story creators begin with an interesting character in mind, then cast about for an appropriate story premise. Other times story creators will have a plot and then develop characters who will best forward both plot and theme.

At this stage creators begin amassing characteristics, personal histories, internal states, and external actions to create a coherent system which will represent a real breathing persona, whether human or not. When enough of these details are in place, characters can "take on a life of their own," whereby what they are likely to feel or do in any given situation is predictable or at least explainable. These details may be set out in advance or the creator may develop them during the process of creation.

In order to present a satisfying story it is important not to violate character coherence simply to provide branching points when creating a multilinear story. Such dividing points work best when they flow naturally from characters' own personal complexities and inner conflicts.

Styling Stage

The style in which a story is told will affect both how the audience experiences and understands it. Therefore, story creators will consider which style best represents and expresses their theme. Each genre and medium has its own shorthand, understood by its devotees, in order to quickly get at the most enjoyable aspects of that sort of story. Part of this shorthand is the narrative style which will suggest time, place, character and even a system of values (i.e. a lyrical style may indicate a valuing of beauty, an anti-fictional style may indicate existential values).

At this stage story creators will usually fall into the stylistic conventions of their chosen genre, though certainly with their own unique set of symbols and creative devices.